Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dealing With “The Wall”

Regular readers are probably aware that I’ve been working on this “challenge” screenplay (see “Let the Games Begin," from August 16). With five days to go, and only 10 pages left to write, finishing it looks eminently possible.

The giant foot tapping the brakes of my euphoria, however, is the realization that it will take more than 10 pages to tell what needs to be told. Which means writing until it makes sense to say “The End.” And then editing and cutting all those words and phrases that were so painstakingly crafted.

I can’t wait to start the edit, because that will mean that the writing is over. This is the hardest part of a project for me. It always makes me think of university, with finals week approaching and being tired from burning too many candles at too many ends for too long. I can look at my calendar and know when it will all be over. But I can’t for the life of me figure out how it’s going to be anything but a train wreck.

A friend watched my 2 year-old daughter so I could have 5 hours of uninterrupted time today. Bliss! I caught up on e-mails and quickly got to work. I actually envisioned being a powerhouse of prose and finishing the rough draft…

About an hour and a half into the morning, I hit The Wall. I’m not talking about Writer’s Block. I don’t believe that exists. It’s not that I couldn’t find something to say. I just couldn’t find the right something.

I wrote – and deleted – scene after scene, page after page. I knew the problem had been coming for some time now. I have the screenplay all mapped out – have my outline in front of me, in fact. I know what happens. I know how it ends. But there’s one segue that I’ve known was weak from the very beginning.

In other words, I knew A, B, and D. I just couldn’t figure out how to make C happen without it feeling so implausibly contrived as to destroy any suspension of disbelief that may have accrued throughout the movie.

Here’s hoping that my problem is an isolated one, plaguing only me. Here’s hoping that you have no idea what I’m talking about, and that you have never met a wall in your creative endeavors.

However, should you ever find yourself faced with a looming Writing Wall, allow me to suggest some tactics that work for me:

Ask for directions. Talk to someone. Tell a friend, a spouse, or a Significant Other about the situation as it stands. Explain the characters’ motivations, briefly state the story thus far, and tell what happens later. Ask for suggestions for ways of connecting what is already written with what Must Happen next. Listen carefully. Do not shoot ideas down. Often, a fresh perspective can help find a plausible path through the obstruction.

Talk to yourself. If possible, use a Dictaphone or Memory Stick so you can revisit your nuggets of inspiration later. Talk yourself through the problem. Explain why things have to happen in a certain way. Dissect the weakness in the story line. Is it a poorly defined character? Is it a too-obvious coincidence? It is a lack of conflict? Is it a too-easily resolved conflict? Nothing is carved in stone, at this point, so analyze your story from every possible angle. It is entirely possible that you will find a way over the wall on your own.

Educate yourself. Today, my wall was caused by my lack of understanding of a particular protocol. “Write what you know” is a truism because trying to write what you don’t know invariably leads to holes in logic, or presents credibility issues. Thank God for the internet. Get online and research what’s giving you trouble. If you know of someone with experience in a related area, don’t be afraid to ask for a reality check. Learn enough to climb the wall – then get on with your story.

Re-examine Your Characters. The best possible advice I can ever give you is to let your characters tell their story. Don’t try to force them into a story of your creating. If your characters are round, full-bodied, complex entities, they have enough hopes and dreams and secrets for several stories. Maybe they’d rather tell a story you haven’t yet considered. Taking a closer look at your characters may bring a whole new tenor to your work.

Do Not Give Up. Keep working at the Wall, approaching it from different angles, and with different tactics, until you eventually just wear it down. Remember – you built the thing in the first place. You wrote the story. You imagined the events that led to the wall. You are certainly capable of leading your characters and your audience over it, and continuing the adventure on the other side.

A gentle reminder to all of you who took me up on the two month challenge in August. The FINAL DEADLINE is Monday, October 31, at 12:00 midnight, EST. Good Luck!